Before his work on Season 5 and the upcoming Season 6 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Emmy-nominated director Jeremy Podeswa has worked on such hit series as American Horror Story, The Walking Dead and True Blood. The GoT episode for which he is nominated this year—“Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken”—features one of the most controversial scenes of the entire series: the rape of Sansa Stark. In an interview with Deadline, Podeswa addresses the controversy as well as his experience working on GoT and helping to craft the Myranda character while also providing a glimpse into the upcoming sixth season.
What are the big differences between working on Game of Thrones and some of the other popular series you’ve directed?
I think for me it’s being able to work at a very high level on a show that’s extremely ambitious. This show represents many different worlds. I call it an intimate epic. It has a kind of David Lean-quality almost, with an epic alternative reality feeling about it, which has called back to historical eras but isn’t like anything else. It’s quite unique in its presentation, its look and its scope. It also has wonderful opportunities for intimacy and strong storytelling and great scenes that are created for actors to play that are a pleasure to work with as a filmmaker. This show allows you to do everything.
As a director, what excites you most, the sweeping action sequences or the small, human moments?
For me, the attraction is all of it. I think if you just had one and not the other it would be a lesser experience. I’ve done many shows that do afford you one or the other, but the combination is rare. I think what is great is that Dan (Weiss) and David (Benioff), who created this show, are really visionary and they’re ambitious in terms of what they think they can accomplish and what they in fact have been able to accomplish. I think many other shows, whether it’s for budgetary reasons or for pragmatic ones, are not able to follow the vision this far, to this degree, that these guys are able to. They’re given the resources from HBO to do it, which is rare. They do write equally well for the epic and for the intimate, which also is a rare thing.
And they have cast (GoT) with amazing actors who can play these really beautiful scenes. Many times when I watch the show—not just the shows that I work on, obviously, but many of the other episodes—the scenes I’m really drawn to are ones that are just two people in a room talking. But the performances are so great and the writing is so complex and interesting that it’s incredibly compelling. In the directing of it you find there are always many discoveries in those kinds of scenes, too, but they end up being way more interesting than you think because the actors just bring that kind of complexity to it.
Do you select the episodes you’re interested in directing or are you approached?
They approached me this year about doing the first two of the new season and that was exciting because I know there’s a great deal of anticipation for those episodes because it’s the first time the entire season is off the books. The story has now surpassed the last novel that George Martin wrote, so I think the fans of the show, and people who are fans of the novels, are curious and excited to see where the show goes because there’s no template at this point. That great deal of curiosity about it excites me.
One of the most compelling characters in the episodes you directed is Myranda, mistress to Ramsay Bolton, played by Charlotte Hope. What were your discussions with her about this character?
The new dynamic in seeing her and Sansa is a really fascinating one, so we talked about that a lot. She has a history with Ramsay that goes really far back. They’ve known each other for many years and he’s had many women in between but they have a unique relationship. There’s something about her that really connects with him. She has a little bit of what Ramsay has a lot of, which is a kind of reckless—I don’t want to say crazy because it’s too simplistic a word, really—but a kind of willful, sadistic streak. That’s why she’s lasted this long with him because she can “play” with him in a way that he wants to be played with. She’s his match in a certain way. She’s a very strong foil and adversary for Sansa. Sansa walks into this relationship with Ramsay with her eyes open but feeling that she can handle whatever is going to come her way because she’s a strong woman. But she does find, the first hint of it being with Myranda, that she’s a bit out of her depth in this situation. Charlotte does a fantastic job of playing someone who is really complex, very disturbing as a character, but still very charismatic.
You directed one of the more discussed and controversial episodes of the entire series, which was the rape scene involving Sansa Stark and Ramsay Bolton. What was directing that scene like?
To be honest I can’t speak to that scene too much. I can say that I think the dialogue that came out of that when the show aired was very interesting to me. We expected a certain amount of controversy because people had really felt a strong connection to Sansa and had really seen Sophie (Turner) grow up on the show, like literally grow up. People are very invested in her as a character so anything that might happen to her is something that is going to affect the viewers a lot. We were very aware of that. All I can say is that we tried to handle it as delicately and carefully as we could. I worked very closely with the actors on it and I guess that’s all I can really say about that subject.
You also had some important scenes with Jon Snow that foreshadowed his demise in the finale. Going in are you aware of the entire arc for the season?
We all know the whole arc of the season so we all know what’s coming, but don’t ask me about the next season. (Laughs.)
But what can you tell us about Season 6?
They got the actors (together) before the show started filming and we did read-throughs of all 10 scripts, but we did them by storylines. So, all the storylines that involved certain characters—we read through the entire 10 scripts for those characters. Then the next day we followed a few other characters and followed them through all 10 scripts. We got a real sense of how the stories arc-through for each character for the whole season. That was really exciting to listen to because everybody’s got an amazing storyline this year. I think the way the characters converge is something that started last season, where characters who have never met before were suddenly meeting, and the worlds are coming together, and the world is getting a little smaller in a way. That happens more and more this season. That becomes very exciting. One thing I can say about the first two episodes of the season is that there’s not a lot of laying pipe or laying track. We just get right into the story and it’s very propulsive narratively—the whole season is—and it’s heading towards a destination that is very exciting.
To view a scene from Podeswa’s Emmy-nominated episode of Game of Thrones, click play below: